Mason Cummings

 Inner Vision: The Role of Endogenous Visual Phenomena in the Masks of the Baining
History of Art
Spring 2019

For my research project, I will be investigating how endogenous visual phenomena (entoptics) are involved in ritual masks made by the Baining people of Papua New Guinea. Entoptics are the visible effects derived from within the brain's optic system, and are thus produced independently of visual input from the external environment. One may be familiar with entoptics in the form of phosphenes or migraine auras, though they are most vividly realized during altered states of consciousness, such as drug intoxication or hypnotic trance. While seemingly random, neurological research on the visual cortex has developed a standardized taxonomy of entoptics that can be applied to a wide variety of art forms across multiple geographic and temporal contexts. Baining masks are suited to such an entoptic analysis because: 1.) they arise in relation to rituals which facilitate entoptic experience through the cultivation of trance-like states; and 2.) they contain geometrical motifs suggestive of the standard taxonomy of entoptic forms. Thus, by investigating the entoptic presence in these masks, the ways in which ritualized visionary experience is incorporated into Baining art production can be better understood.